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ILS Proton Rocket Lofts EchoStar 16

The EchoStar 16 satellite was launched Nov. 21, 2012, by a Proton Breeze M rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: International Launch Services photo

NAPLES, Italy — An International Launch Services (ILS) Proton Breeze M rocket on Nov. 21 successfully placed the large EchoStar 16 direct-broadcast television satellite into orbit in the second of a planned four launches this year since the vehicle failed in August.

The launch, from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, placed the 6,683-kilogram EchoStar 16 into the planned geostationary transfer orbit after nine hours and 12 minutes and five burns of the Breeze-M upper stage.

Built by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., EchoStar 16 carries 32 high-power Ku-band transponders and is designed to deliver 20 kilowatts of power to the payload. It will operate from 61.5 degrees west.

In addition to its communications payload, EchoStar 16 carries a gold-plated silicon disc with 100 images of humanity. The idea behind the artwork is that a satellite in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers over the equator could remain in orbit after the extinction of humanity and thereby offer a useful artifact for whatever intelligent life comes after.

Geostationary-orbiting satellites are, according to a non-binding code of conduct, generally removed from the geostationary arc on retirement and placed into a graveyard orbit several hundred kilometers higher in altitude.

In the meantime, EchoStar 16 will be operated by Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar for 15 years.

The August Proton failure put pressure on Proton builder, and ILS owner, Khrunichev Space Center of Moscow to determine the cause, prevent its recurrence and return to flight in a minimum amount of time to serve Russian government and ILS commercial customers.

Five weeks after the failure, in a decision that was criticized by some in the industry as being too soon, Luxembourg- and Washington-based Intelsat agreed to permit its IS-23 to ride aboard Proton. The launch was a success. 

The successful EchoStar 16 launch sets up an early-December flight for the Yamal 402 satellite owned by Gazprom Space Systems of Moscow.

ILS has scheduled a late-December launch of the Satmex 8 satellite, also built by Space Systems/Loral. That launch is crucial for Mexican satellite operator Satmex. Satmex 8 will replace Satmex 5 and immediately assume Satmex 5’s customers.

Satmex 5 is expected to run out of fuel by May, when it will need to be placed into a graveyard orbit. It takes several weeks for a satellite to be tested in orbit and moved to final commercial position. Any substantial delay in the Satmex 8 launch would raise the risk of Satmex 5 being removed from service, at which point its unhappy customers would move to other satellites.

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